Longest running youth circus program

Program of Performance, Training and Outreach Legacy

Dolly Jacobs and Pedro Reis
Circus Arts Conservatory founders - Dolly Jacobs and Pedro Reis open the night by highlighting the programs and young artists at a recent show.

When John Ringling brought his famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to Sarasota in 1927, a new era for the city was started that continues to this day. When the owners of Feld Entertainment closed down the Ringlings’ creation last year, the circus continued to thrive in Sarasota as the Circus Arts Conservatory was already dominant entertainment. The non-profit founded in 1997 includes Circus Sarasota, the Sailor Circus Academy, Education and Humor Therapy programs.

The Sailor Circus Academy already had a 48-year history when circus performers Dolly Jacobs and Pedro Reis started programs that later would become the conservatory in 2013 to promote their mission of performing, training and outreach. Since Sailor Circus was brought into the conservatory, over 20,000 students from ages eight to 18 have been educated by the teaching artists. The students pick up life skills such as grace, discipline and athleticism.

Aerial Silks - Sailor Circus Academy
Sailor Circus Academy - Student acrobats perform with aerial silks at a recent performance. The show High Flying Holidays pulled together 87 budding artists for aerial and acrobatic displays.

Sailor Circus started as a physical education program at Sarasota High School and is the longest running youth training program for circus arts in the nation. It expanded to enroll students from other area schools, some had to travel by sail boat to attend classes. The school name was picked up for their mode of travel. Now students spend up to 30 hours a week in training for the performances. The most recent was the High Flying Holidays, four days of shows that ended December 30. Although the dates have not been set for the Spring performance, students are already practicing their aerial, clown and tumbling acts.

This is a good week to celebrate the circus arts as there are three events starting Friday to feature the performers. You can get a glimpse of high school student abilities this Sunday at their afternoon of free circus acts and music by the Windjammers Unlimited (tickets are required). To prepare for these performances volunteers and coaches donate up to 6,000 hours per year and over 500 volunteer positions are filled with each performance. The conservatory and sailor circus artists were honored this summer with performances at the Smithsonian Center’s Folk-life and Cultural Heritage Festival in Washington D.C.

Circus Sarasota is our hometown professional performances in a circus tent by the UTC Mall at Nathan Benderson Park. For these shows the artists perform under the Ulla Searing Big Top, a one-ring, five-star, European-style tent. The next series of shows begins February 9 and runs daily through March 5. Ovation! Celebrates 250 years of the circus with artists from around the globe.

The annual gala, Circus Arts Winter Wonderland is a celebration of Sarasota’s Circus Royalty under the Big Top, January 27, hosted by Jacobs and Reis. Dance the night away with the popular band Soul R Coaster at this event catered by Michael's on East. The weekend of March 23, Cirque des Voix, will be under the Big Top for three days of circus performances in combination with the Key Chorale group. Circus of the Voices, is a celebration of music from film score composer Danny Elfman.

Circus Ring of Fame
Circus Ring of Fame - Five groups and individuals will be inducted Saturday, including local clown, Chucko. The Ring of Fame in St. Armands Circle is in its 31st year honoring those who have contributed so much.

Jacobs and Reis are both inducted into the Ring of Fame on St. Armands Circle. A group of five more individual and groups will be inducted this Saturday in the park, starting at 1:15 PM with the Windjammers Unlimited. Now in its 31st year, The Ring of Fame will once again honor those who have devoted their lives to the circus. Each of the inductees will attend a panel discussion at 10 AM on Friday at Showfolks of Sarasota. Meet the performers and attend a circus flea market starting at 9 AM.

Among the inductees will be The Fredonias, who built Professor Risley’s human juggling acrobatics into their act. Inductee Cedric Walker has brought together circus artists from around the world to perform in his UniverSoul Circus. German polar bear trainer Ursula Böttcher will be honored posthumously. Members of The Flying Españas, a world famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey trapeze family for many years will be inducted.

The circus wouldn’t be family entertainment without the clowns. This year local celebrity clown Chuck “Chucko” Sidlow will be inducted into the Ring of Fame. Chucko is active in the Circus Arts Conservatory with his outreach program Laughter Unlimited. He and his wife Noriko visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities to promote the circus through laughter as the best medicine. Outreach programs from the conservatory have provided 7,000 humor therapy visits to area facilities since 2002.

High wire act - Sailor Circus Academy
High Wire Act - Students traverse the wire in a pyramid at a recent Sailor Circus show. The Sailor Circus Arena is in need of a $4 million renovation project.

And now the Sailor Circus Arena needs a renovation. So far they have $2.5 million of their $4 million campaign goal to make the iconic arena on Bahia Vista safe and with air conditioning. To get involved in donations, IRA retirement contributions in their legacy program or to volunteer visit the website at CircusArts.org. Your support will keep the conservatory and the Greatest “Little” Show on Earth successful for many more years.

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